The Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired is proud to welcome Denise Jess as the organization’s new Chief Executive Officer/Executive Director, effective October 1, 2016.
Jess, who has served as Assistant Executive Director since July 1, assumes the leadership role after the retirement of Executive Director Loretta Himmelsbach on September 29.
Jess, a Madison resident, previously served as Second Vice President for the Council Board of Directors. She also chaired the Nominating Committee and was a member of the Scholarship Committee. Jess was approached by Board President Chris Richmond to get involved with the Council a couple years ago and jumped at the opportunity.
“Chris attended a workshop that I was teaching at the UW-Madison and was really impressed with my level of comfort in telling people that I had a visual impairment,” Jess said. “When he asked if I had any interest in getting involved with the Board, it felt exactly right. I had the great benefit of people throughout my career believing in who I was and what my capabilities were that it was time for me to put energy into the blind and visually impaired community.”
Jess brings to the Council an extensive background in teaching and business expertise. She began her teaching career in elementary education more than 30 years ago.
“I loved teaching kids because it was a lot of fun for me to teach in a very hands-on way and to have my kids realize their potential,” Jess said. “I left that position after about 10 years because I was impressed with the work I was doing in helping kids resolve conflict differently and helping them appreciate differences; that it was a huge asset rather than a detrement. It was very powerful for me to see these little people develop into big people and becoming change agents.”
In 1995, Jess started her own business, Denise Jess Consulting, helping organizations develop more inclusivity through a broad range of diversity. In addition, foor the past 10 years, Jess has worked as an ad hoc instructor for the UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies.
Jess, who was born with hyperplasia of the optic nerve, brings a great deal of communication and facilitation skills to the Council. Through her years in teaching and consulting, Jess has developed the ability to sort out complex and emotionally charged issues and seek out multiple solutions to problems that address underlying concerns.
Jess is a collaborative worker who has led experiential and interactive skill-building workshops, participated in one-on-one leadership development coaching, and meeting facilitation. During her time as a consultant, Jess attracted a broad client base from environmental and social justice organizations to government organizations and spiritual communities, along with healthcare and mental health professionals and corporations.
“I did a lot of coaching with the top leaders at organizations to help them think about designing their organizations that is genuinely inclusive and getting the work done in a way that treats everyone within that organization with dignity and respect,” Jess said.
Looking ahead, Jess would like to transform the Council into more of a values-based organization.
“I’m thrilled to have been selected as CEO/Executive Director – it’s amazing to me,” Jess said. “I have an exceptional staff to work with who have energy, commitment and who care deeply about the organization and each other. That’s very important to me because it ripples out to doing healthy work out in the world.”